I had my first exposure to the political parties this week as I joined the Free Churches delegation to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. This was a fascinating event, both because of the meetings we had with Conservative MPs and because of working more closely with our JPIT colleagues, the Salvation Army and the Quakers. Overall the meetings have been somewhat of a pleasant surprise for me. I have never really felt at home with all the Conservative Party represents but it was inspirational to talk with committed Christians at the centre of Government, even if I did not always agree with their views. The slogan for the Conference was ‘Building a Country that works for everyone’. This is an easy line to applaud, but everyone that we spoke with did give the impression that this is more than just a slogan … I hope when we eat the pudding it tastes as good as it should!
Our participation started with joining the Conservative Christian Fellowship prayer breakfast on the Tuesday morning. We were grateful to our host Gareth Wallace, the CCF Director, who introduced each of the church leaders and involved us in the table prayers, which helped with some of the meetings with the MPs that followed. David Burrows MP, Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ending Homelessness, challenged his fellow MPs to eradicate the scandal of homelessness. Bec Wilkinson and Pete Cunningham spoke about the work done by
Green Pastures (which today houses almost 800 people through a network of 50 partners across the country).
Such a good job was done by Grace Pengelly and others that we had enough requests for meetings to split into two ‘teams’. I paired with Jane Dawson, the Advocacy and Public Relations lead for the Quakers, and we met five interesting MPs: Andrew Jones, John Glen, Andrew Brigden, Caroline Ansell and Caroline Spelman. Here are a few highlights:
- Andrew Jones MP: praised the role of faith communities within his constituency and highlighted the essential role faith communities will play in promoting communal reconciliation post Brexit. Andrew is a Minister in the Department of Transport and he told us one of his priorities is to enhance disabled access.
- John Glen MP: challenged faith communities to engage in more debate with politicians and not simply attack them.
- Andrew Brigden MP: passionate about providing equality of opportunity (not equality of outcome) to all.
- Caroline Ansell: requested prayer from
- Caroline Spelman: praised the response of faith communities to the refugee crisis, encouraged faith groups to promote political involvement. Keen to see more Christians involved in frontline politics.
It was clear that all of the MPs we met were committed to serving their constituents and supporting the government to make the UK a country that works for everyone. It was also clear that public life has taken its toll on some of the MPs and their families. It seems that a few people use the internet to be incredibly rude and abusive to our MPs. Even if we do not agree with all they stand for they are still children of God and deserve to be treated like them. I ask that you all pray for our MPs: for the wisdom and courage to do what is right and for protection from evil.